Judicial pay raises: Thanks, but no thanks

The State Officers Compensation Commission recommended that Michigan judges get a 3% pay raise in 2013 and another 3% the following year, in a report released yesterday.

Good news for the state’s judiciary in light of a decade of frozen salaries and the near-certain knowledge that in many cases, they’d be far better off if they were in private practice.

But that’s what being a public servant is all about, right?

The recommended raise would bump Michigan Supreme Court justices’ salaries to $169,548 in 2013 and $174,634 in 2014. Lower court judges would benefit because their salaries are based on a percentage of what the justices make.

But along with the raise recommendation, the SOCC handed the judiciary an enormous problem.

The SOCC recommended pay freezes for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and legislators, who all took a ten percent cut at the beginning of the year.

And don’t forget about the current round of heavy-handed “negotiations” of concessions from public employees’ unions.

You could almost imagine mobs of outraged peons storming the Hall of Justice with torches and pitchforks if the raises actually received the required legislative approval.

The Michigan Supreme Court must have been thinking along those lines when it caught wind of the SOCC’s recommendations.

The Court came up with an elegant solution that avoided a potential public relations disaster, nipped in the bud any legislative grousing about over-paid, under-worked judges and portrayed the judiciary as a group of responsible public employees.

On behalf of the state’s judges, the Court all but turned down the recommended raise. The Court’s statement:

The judges of Michigan appreciate that the State Officers Compensation Commission has recognized that a freeze on judicial compensation for over a decade is not good public policy.

Our priority continues to be to make the justice system right-sized, smarter, more user-friendly and more accountable. We appreciate the recommendation for an increase in compensation.

Given the continued budgetary situation of the state, however, we would understand if the legislature chose not to increase judicial salaries at this time.

We are confident that as Michigan’s recovery progresses, the issue will be revisited.

The Court’s statement was backed by the Michigan Judges Association, the Michigan Probate Judges Association, the Michigan District Court Judges Association, and the Michigan Judicial Conference.

MSC amends attorney discipline rules

The Michigan Supreme Court, in an April 19 order, revised court rules governing Michigan’s attorney discipline system. The amendments affect practice and procedure before the Attorney Grievance Commission and the Attorney Discipline Board. ADM File No. 2006-38.

The court also appointed Nancy A. Kida as chief judge, and Thomas N. Brunner as chief judge pro tempore of the 85th District Court in Benzie County. ADM File No. 2011-01.

Eastern District bankruptcy judges: How are we doing?

How are the six judges of the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan performing on the bench?

They’d like to know and have asked the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) to help them find out.

Beginning today and through the end of May, bankruptcy attorneys in the Eastern District will receive emailed surveys about the judges or judges they’ve practiced before.

For each survey, research staff at the FJC will compile and analyze the survey responses, and will provide each judge a report, including a statistical summary and a compilation of the comments that are received. FJC staff will not provide the judges with the identity of people who responded, if that information becomes known to them. The results are exclusively for the judge’s use in improving his or her performance; they will not be provided to anyone other than the judge and will not be used in either the reappointment or recall process.

Here’s more information about the survey process.

Lansing district judge sends heavyweights to fight AG’s ouster attempt

Over the weekend, The Lansing State Journal reported that former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Thomas Brennan and attorney Lawrence Nolan are going up against Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is seeking to oust Lansing District Court Judge Hugh Clarke Jr.

Schuette, you’ll recall, says Clarke is illegally occupying his judicial office: “Schuette seeks to unseat Lansing district judge.”

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Clarke in December to fill a vacancy created by Lansing District Court Judge Amy Krause’s appointment to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

According to Schuette, Clarke’s appointment could only last until the end of Krause’s term of office, which ended at noon, Jan. 1.

Krause had been re-elected to the district court in November. Schuette’s position is that Clarke can’t serve the term to which Krause had been re-elected but had not begun serving when she was appointed to the COA.

Brennan and Nolan want the Michigan Supreme Court to bypass the COA, which has original jurisdiction of Schuette’s quo warranto motion to unseat Clarke.

From The LSJ:

Schuette, a Republican who took office Jan. 1, says Clarke’s appointment should have ended on Jan. 1. He further argues that Gov. Rick Snyder has the legal authority to fill the seat once held by Krause.

In their response, Clarke’s attorneys say that state law has an appointee to the District Court bench fill the seat until the “next general November election, at which time a successor is elected and qualified.”

Brennan also argues that the Michigan Supreme Court does not have the power to remove a judge without a recommendation from the Judicial Tenure Commission. Further, such removals can occur only in a specific set of circumstances, none of which apply to the dispute over Clarke.

“We stand by our position. It’s a matter of principle and precedent based on a previous case involving a Supreme Court justice,” said John Sellek, a spokesman for Schuette. Sellek added that due to the lateness of the filings Friday, the Attorney General’s Office had not had a chance to look them over.

In the meantime, Clarke continues to preside over his court.

“I have a parking place. I’m going to work every day, working for the people of Michigan,” Clarke told The LSJ.

Circular circulation

From The Detroit Free Press comes this interesting tale of a government job-swap:

Longtime Wayne County Probate Judge David Szymanski put in for retirement in early November, planning to leave his $140,000-a-year judgeship on Dec. 21.

On Dec. 20, Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed deputy Wayne County Treasurer Terrance Keith to fill Szymanski’s spot on the probate bench, leaving Keith’s $145,000-a-year deputy clerk position open.

Who did Wayne County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz appoint?

He didn’t have to look far. He hired Szymanski.

The former judge said his judicial pension should pay him between $55,000 and $60,000 a year on top of his new salary and help him put his children through college.

“There was no quid pro quo,” Szymanski said.

Keith, who had worked for the county for about nine years, didn’t return phone calls this week seeking comment on the job switch.

Schuette seeks to unseat Lansing district judge

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says Lansing District Court Judge Hugh Clarke is now unlawfully on the bench and has filled a quo warranto motion with the Michigan Court of Appeals to remove him from office.

A press release from Schuette’s office explains:

Clarke was appointed by the previous administration to the 54-A District Court (Lansing) on December 20, 2010.

Schuette says it was technically proper for Clarke to fill the last days of the unexpired term of former District Court Judge Amy Krause. However, any attempt to remain in office past noon on January 1, 2011 is illegal because he cannot fulfill the new term Krause had been elected to on November 2, 2010, but had not started before she left the district court. …

Under state law, the Attorney General may seek, via a quo warranto motion, to remove a person who “unlawfully holds or exercises a state office.”

In the complaint, the Attorney General’s office charges that Clarke is not lawfully permitted to serve in office at this time because the state constitution says that vacancies filled by the governor expire at “12 noon of the first day of January next succeeding the first general election held after the vacancy occurs”

Furthermore, Schuette cites Kelley v. Riley as precedent that an appointee may not serve the next term of the person they replace. In Kelley, a majority of the Michigan Supreme Court granted quo warranto against then-Michigan Supreme Court Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley, a Republican.

In that 1982 case, the Court ruled that Justice Riley could not serve the new term of the judge she succeeded by appointment by then-Governor Milliken. Justice Riley was removed from office and the next governor, Democrat James Blanchard, was entitled to appoint a new individual to serve the new term.

Study planned of how Mich. appellate judges picked

DETROIT (AP) — A task force will propose revisions to Michigan’s system for selecting state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges in the wake of an election season that included the heavy use of negative ads.

The 24-member Judicial Selection Task Force announced Tuesday is co-chaired by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly and 6th Circuit Judge James L. Ryan. Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is an honorary co-chair.

Starting in January, the task force will look at how Michigan’s appellate judges are picked and examine recent campaign spending for Michigan Supreme Court races. Kelly says in a statement that the 2010 judicial elections in Michigan saw “vitriolic advertising.”

The task force plans to release its recommendations in 2011.